The Source Theatre was one of D.C.’s most notable small companies, home to everything from a punk-musical take on Titus Andronicus to the ingenious farces of Alan Ayckbourn. Two years ago, the financially strapped outfit—the first of the 14th Street playhouses to own its own home—went on what was supposed to be a temporary hiatus (Show & Tell, “Outsourcing Plans,” 3/19/04). Now, if a pending deal goes through, the only thing playing at 1835 14th Street NW will be music and snooker.
Geoff Dawson and Curt Large, president and COO, respectively, of Bedrock Companies, which operates Atomic Billiards, Bedrock Billiards, and other upscale pool halls around the metro area, confirm that Source’s board has signed a contract to sell the property. Source board chair Peggy O’Brien issued a press release Tuesday confirming the sale. It says Source will “use the proceeds of the sale to continue Source’s mission to create opportunity for theater artists and invigorate theater across the City,” and that “[s]pecifics of these plans will be announced as soon as possible.”
Neither party would discuss monetary consideration for the sale. Dawson says the company is “paying market rate,” which in the U Street corridor is about $375 per square foot. Given Source’s 8,000-square-foot floor plan, that works out to a roughly $3 million deal.
Word of the sale first became public on Feb. 2, when Dawson and Large appeared before a meeting of Advisory Neighborhood Commission 1B, seeking approval for a CT-class “tavern” license for 1835 14th Street. They supplied commissioners with a one-page description of their plans for Standard Bar & Grill, a “neighborhood gathering spot” complete with dining, darts, and a roof deck. But the commission declined to act because Bedrock hadn’t yet posted notice of the liquor-license application at the Source space.
Source’s former artistic director, Pat Murphy Sheehy, laments the potential loss of both the space and its role as a talent incubator. “You look around at all the actors who are well-known in D.C.—Nancy Robinette, Marty Lodge, Doug Brown, Susan Lynskey, designers like Tony Cisek—they all started at Source,” she says.
Despite the Source press release, “there are issues to be resolved before Source can simply sell the property to a developer,” says John McGaw, coordinator of the ReSTORE DC commercial-revitalization program in the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. “The District has, over the years, invested almost $1 million in the Source Theatre Company.” Source is behind on its mortgage payments, he says, adding that the District may want to “recapture parts of the subsidy” or “participate in the upside of the sale.”
What that upside will be is anybody’s guess. For the moment, Source is unclear on exactly what it owes. “We have a ballpark on that, and we know who the creditors are,” says O’Brien. “But we don’t yet have a specific figure. When we have that, I’m happy to talk about…purchase price, debt, and the important thing, which is what we’ll have left over to invest back into the theater community.”
Though Source hasn’t produced anything itself since 2004, the Actors Theatre of Washington plans to stage a production of David Mamet’s Boston Marriage from Feb. 17 to March 19. (Large says the sale isn’t expected to close before the production does.) And IN Series Executive Director Carla Hübner, the building’s informal resident manager since the Source forces closed up shop, says she was blindsided by the news.
“I’m astonished that we weren’t given an opportunity to make a proposal of some sort,” Hübner says. “Nor would I have dreamed when we came to the Source three years ago that this was going to happen—that they would essentially walk away from the building.”
Dawson and Large are both locals active in various nonprofits, with Large serving as treasurer of the Samaritan Ministry homeless-outreach program and Dawson chairing the Avalon Theater’s capital campaign. According to the Source release, they plan to “work with Mid City Artists and other arts groups and provide gallery space to local artists” in the Standard.
“I sympathize with nice guys,” Sheehy says, but “we’re not an industrial city, so there are very few theater-friendly spaces available. They can put in a Buffalo Billiards anywhere.”
Still, both Dawson and Large say they’re prepared to move ahead even while the liquor-license question remains unresolved. Bedrock’s financing is in place, its engineers have inspected the building, and the buyer’s study period has expired; the only thing left, Large confirms, “is to show up for closing.”—Trey Graham